After beating Liverpool in the fourth round, Everton had breezed into the semi – finals. Facing a United side distracted by other tournaments, could they reach a first cup final since 1995?
Everton have a decent history in the FA Cup, having won it 5 times and finishing runner up a further 8 times, which, by the way, is a record amount of losses in FA Cup finals – well, at least we get there! Everton last won the FA Cup in 1995, when Joe Royal’s dogs of war beat the much fancied Manchester United. The closest they have come since then is the cup run of 2009. The barren spell of finals coincided with a period of uncertainty about relegation under Walter Smith and then rebuilding under David Moyes. Having always focussed on the league, with that dedication rewarded by a Champions League place, Everton embarked on a much deserved cup run during that year of 2009. A squad containing the likes of Arteta, Fellaini, Pienaar, Osman and the ever reliable Cahill had the firepower –the question was whether they could get the luck to go a long way.
The third round saw Everton drew away at Macclesfield, not the easiest start but definitely a good chance to progress. The match was, in truth, poor but Leon Osman cracked home a volley from 18 yards on the stroke of half time to make sure Everton were 1-0 up heading into the second half. In the second half there were more chances, including two decent one for Macclesfield but Everton held on for a 1-0 win and progressed into the fourth round. The performance hadn’t been special but Anichebe, Baines and Jagielka had chances to put the tie to dead so the signs were there that Everton had goals in their line-up. As I outlined in my 8th instalment in this Prime Memories series, the 4th round was played against Liverpool. After drawing 1-1 at Anfield, there was a dramatic finale to the tie at Goodison when Dan Gosling scored a wonderful goal 2 minutes before the end of extra time. For more on that game please do check out the instalment in this dedicated to that, if you don’t know anything about the match then it is worth a read (if I do say so myself)! The reward for that incredible victory was home tie against Aston Villa, going well in the Premier League.
Everton raced out of the blocks in that tie and took the lead in the third minute when Rodwell fired home after Cahill’s header was blocked on the line by Petrov (a definite handball but seeing as Everton scored – no one minded). With no red card shown, Villa were able to hit back three minutes later through a James Milner penalty kick. Agbonlahor broke through to be cynically brought down by Hibbert just inside the area. Despite the penalty being half saved by Tim Howard, it squirmed under his body and against the run of play it was 1-1. In the 24th minute, Atkinson awarded the second penalty of the match, this time for Everton. Sidwell made what can only be described as a stupid challenge on Anichebe to provide the referee with no choice. Mikel Arteta made no mistake from the spot to restore Everton’s advantage, and no one could say that it wasn’t deserved based on the balance of play. The match had been full blooded, with tackles flying in left right and centre and a grand total of 6 yellow cards spread equally between the sides by the end of the match. However, thrown in with cards were goalmouth chances and both had chances to score more goals before Everton’s third. Agbonlahor missed a sitter and Carew made sure Howard produced a fantastic save for Villa while Gosling crashed a shot into the side nettings. With 15 minutes left of the match, Everton made sure of the victory when Anichebe sent over a cross which Cahill managed to smuggle in. Everton were into the quarter finals, for the first time since a disappointing 3-0 loss at Middlesbrough in 2002.
By a strange coincidence, the opponents in 2009 were also Middlesbrough, although this time it was being held at Goodison. Unfortunately for Everton fans, history seemed to be repeating itself when David Wheater headed Boro ahead just before half time. The first half had been devoid of entertainment and Moyes needed to change things. He responded by bringing on Louis Saha and almost straight after the re-start Everton got the equaliser. A Tim Cahill cross was met in the air by Marouane Fellaini, who didn’t need another invitation to score. Everton then became the dominant team and it was no surprise when Saha scored another header, this time from a Pienaar cross, 6 minutes later. Everton ended the game the strongest as Boro faulted, held back by mental frailties and a lack of goals in their line ups. Everton surged on towards Wembley, where they would face Manchester United.
The first choice referee, Steve Bennett, withdrew quoting illness and he was replaced by Mike Riley a few days before the match. This decision angered David Moyes who, during an interview with Evertonfc.com, said “A member of the press asked me if Mike Riley is a Manchester United supporter – I think that is something you would need to bring up with the FA.” This view comes from the fact that he had given a number of calls against Everton in the matches he had refereed in during Moyes’ reign, including a penalty call against United which ultimately denied Everton a European place. Moyes ended the interview by saying “I think they can be influenced, I think that has been seen in a couple of games I have been involved in recently.” The quotes were very strong for David Moyes, who usually refuses to slate people in the national press, however they showed that Everton were well and truly up for the fight, which went against how the journalists saw it. I wonder whether Moyes will be brave enough to make the quotes now he is Manchester United boss and seemingly going against everything he stood for while at Everton, but at the time we saw them as confirmation that our manager had a backbone.
Everton lined up much as they had done throughout the cup run whereas United had made a lot of changes, presumably because they had half an eye on the other tournaments they were competing in, and possibly believed that Everton would be a push over. Manchester United were conquering the world that season, going for an unprecedented total of 5 trophies. Having won the Community Shield and League Cup, both on penalties, they were in a strong position in the Premier League as well as the semi finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup. Even with all the changes they had made, Manchester United were the clear favourites. The first half was bereft of much quality as both teams preferred trying not to lose rather than going for the win, a usual occurrence during a semi final. Unfortunately for Everton fans, the first real chance fell to Phil Neville who blasted a good opportunity well wide. Carlos Tevez then fashioned an opportunity for himself in the 20th minute, but he too pulled his shot wide. The final two chances of the half were shared between the two sides and both teams were slightly lucky not to fall behind. First of all, Foster stumbled over a clearance and very nearly handed the ball straight to Saha before Welbeck’s touch from a Rafael cross was in avertedly touched onto the Everton crossbar by Lescott, with Howard beaten. The sides went into the break at 0-0, which neither side could be either disheartened or encouraged by. The match was a bore fest in truth, with Everton not being able to take advantage of the weakened side fielded by United and United, in turn, not able to play the way United teams were known for. Everton looked a bit overwhelmed by the occasion, United were clearly lacking the talismanic figures of Rooney and Ronaldo.
The match restarted without any substitutions and when Cahill drove a ball from 25 yards, most Everton fans thought they had taken the lead, only for Ben Foster to deny him with a fine stop. Manchester United had started the second half brightly and were starting to pile on the pressure, emphasised by Ji-Sung Park shooting wide and Welbeck starting to have a bigger impact on the match. Future Everton player Darron Gibson then tested former United player Tim Howard from distance but crucially neither side could find a way past the keepers, who were both relaxing into the occasion and playing well. What followed next was both possibly influenced by previous events while at the same time being definitely central to the direction the match went. Danny Welbeck, who incidentally was a pupil at my school while I was there, broke clear of the defence and a breakdown in communication between keeper and centre back, Phil Jagielka, meant that Jagielka brought him down with a cynical challenge. While Mike Riley didn’t have the best view of it, he had a decent enough one and decided not to give a penalty, with Moyes’ comments possibly being fresh in his mind. All of a sudden the quotes had taken on more importance, although as Sir Alex Ferguson fumed in his own way, one couldn’t help note how he would have said exactly the same thing as Moyes did and no-one would have batted an eyelid. Aside from all the hoo-ha and fuss that Moyes had created, it was a clear penalty and even the person with the biggest blue-tinted glasses had to admit that. It was a shocking decision from supposedly one of the best officials in the country. With 7 minutes remaining, Welbeck popped up again to curl a shot wide. The match finished 0-0 and headed into extra time, although in stark contrast to when the fourth round replay against Liverpool went into extra time, Everton were holding on.
Manchester United had turned to the unpredictable genius of Berbatov to get themselves a breakthrough yet the only two chances in extra time both fell to Everton. First of all, Tim Cahill fashioned a decent opportunity for himself only to see Foster save it with his legs. Then, later on, substitute James Vaughan found some space to shoot, only for it to miscue and almost find its way into Cahill’s path. In truth the match was poor, and penalties had seemed almost inevitable from the start although I had been hooked to every minute given the occasion and what was at stake. Manchester United had won their last 2 penalty shoot outs, Everton had lost their last one – a heartbreaking defeat to Fiorentina in the previous year’s Uefa Cup. This penalty shoot-out went as follows:
- Cahill – Poor penalty which he blazes over. Eve 0-0 MU
- Berbatov – Very tame effort which Howard saved easily. Eve 0 – 0 MU
- Baines – Brilliant penalty, blasted into the roof of the net with Foster going the other way. Eve 1 -0 MU
- Ferdinand – Another weak penalty saved by Howard. Eve 1 – 0 MU
- Neville – Sends Foster the wrong way, placed into bottom corner. Eve 2 – 0 MU
- Vidic – Checks his run and slots into bottom corner. Eve 2 – 1 MU
- Vaughan – Well struck penalty into the top corner. Eve 3 – 1 MU
- Anderson – Again sends Howard the wrong way and keeps United in the tie. Eve 3 – 2 MU
- Jagielka – Slots the ball into the bottom corner out of Foster’s reach. Everton win 4 -2.
All I remember from the aftermath is running around the front room, celebrating like we had won the cup. One of my first thoughts was how Jagielka, who had been the man to miss in our defeat to Fiorentina, deserved more than anyone to taste penalty success. It didn’t really sink in that we would be contesting an FA Cup final until much later on. There is nothing quite like winning on penalties, as there is a buzz and child-like excitement that comes with it. Even watching it back on YouTube, I felt shivers cascade down my spine as Z-Cars rang out at Wembley. As with the win over Liverpool, my only regret has been that I wasn’t there.
The match was dreadful, the refereeing was awful and I’m still annoyed that United underestimated us so much but none of that matters when we consider how we won. After being second best throughout the match, to turn on the style when it mattered was crucial. As I mentioned on my previous post for Gosling’s goal, the FA Cup means a lot to me and I saw reaching the final as a massive achievement. I remember being happy for weeks after this result, how everything else seemed of little consequence – we had stopped United’s quest to reign in England. For the record, United won the Premier League but lost in the Champions League final and the dream of 5 trophies (6 if you include the Club World Championship) had been reduced to merely a treble! Everton played Chelsea in the final, and despite taking a 30 second lead they went on to lose. Chelsea very much deserved their victory but Everton had a lot of memories to take from the run. I believe that for the dramatic nature of the win and given that it gave me my first taste of a cup final it deserves a place on my list.
Most confident penalty taker: In 2009 Everton had a young left back that was starting to find his place in their side. He had short hair, no sideburns and could take free kicks better than anyone we had seen for a while. There was little knowledge of his penalty ability until he calmly stepped up and blasted one into the top of the net, sending Foster the wrong way. He was our second penalty taker and the third overall, yet the first to score. Leighton Baines would go on to become an Everton’s fans favourite, this was merely the start.
Best celebration: Take a bow James Vaughan. He was the first to congratulate Phil Jagielka after his winning penalty, running to him with a strange hopping like motion, arms stretched out. He then continued to run off on his own, going somewhere where the TV cameras didn’t follow. His passion for Everton football club was never in doubt; it was such a shame the injuries kept following one another.